February 2017 – Phyllis Schlafly was a lady like no other. Her expansive work purifying and strengthening the nation’s conservative movement since the early 1970s earned her the unofficial title of “First Lady of Conservatism.” Relentlessly, she fought until the end. Even at the age of 92, her death at her home in Ladue, Missouri, on September 5, 2016, came as a grievous shock to many.
Phyllis married Fred Schlafly in 1949 at age 25 after she had earned her B.A. from Washington University in 1944 and her Master’s in Political Science from Harvard University in 1945. She worked her way through college testing ammunition by firing rifles and machine guns.
She was fiercely devoted to her husband, her children, and her role as wife and mother. A master at time management, she was possibly America’s most renowned promoter of the role of fulltime homemaker, believing it to carry a high degree of dignity and honor. She and Fred reared their six children in the Roman Catholic faith; she nursed them all and taught them to read before they entered school.
She was catapulted into the public eye in 1964 after she self-published A Choice Not an Echo. With sales eventually reaching more than three million, she revealed in its pages how Republican Party presidential nominees were predetermined by “a few secret kingmakers” just as assuredly as “Paris dressmakers control[led] the length of women's skirts.”
In 1971, with the sudden emergence of feminism, a gang of women began making their way around the halls of Congress demanding that the Equal Rights Amendment be revived. It had originated in the women’s suffrage era and was introduced into Congress in 1923. For nearly 50 years, it had been buried in committee and forgotten.
The constitutional amendment was soon off the ground again. It passed in the House and within 12 months was ratified by 30 of the required 38 states.
Tackling the ERA
In the meantime, Schlafly analyzed the ERA and read between the lines. She realized that ratification of the amendment would open the door to a host of issues that would prove detrimental to women, the family, and society as a whole: homosexual marriage, tax payer-funded abortion, military drafting of women, abolishment of child support and alimony for women, loss of privacy for both sexes, termination of labor laws that protected women from dangerous workplaces, and a massive increase in federal government powers.
In 1972, she formed an opposition movement called STOP ERA and led the pro-family movement into a 10-year battle. Three presidents, every governor, 98% of the media, Hollywood, and big money supported ERA. Against all odds, Schlafly and STOP ERA led the pro-family movement to victory. The votes needed for ratification were never secured.
“ERA was rejected by the American people,” said Schlafly. “And the big lesson we learn from this is that in the marvelous process of self-government given to us by our founding fathers, it is possible for the people to defeat the entire political and media establishment and to win despite incredible odds.”
AFA founder Don Wildmon remembers STOP ERA well. It was in 1977, during Schlafly’s decade-long fight, that he founded AFA, originally the National Federation for Decency.
“She and Chuck Colson are two people who influenced me greatly.” Wildmon told AFA Journal. “I don’t think it’s possible for women today to understand what was happening at that time. It was vicious! She was a fighter, brilliant, and educated. She took on the power structure and won. She killed the ERA singlehandedly – she and her little band of women warriors.”
The secular humanistic determinations she pushed against in the 1970s and ’80s appeared dormant for years but were secretly, slowly slithering through cracks and crevices. Finally rearing their slimy serpent heads, the majority of the ERA goals have been accomplished through separate and individual means in recent years.
A multi-faceted legacy
“Just imagine what would have happened if Schlafly had not fought,” said Wildmon. “We would have had gay marriage decades ago. America is much better because of her.”
Schlafly’s children all became professionals in their fields of interest: three lawyers, one physician, one Ph.D. mathematician, and a businesswoman. Schlafly earned her J.D. from Washington University Law School in 1978, and she was later awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by Washington University in St. Louis. In 1992, her home state of Illinois named her “Mother of the Year.” She authored 19 books over her lifespan and taught millions how to participate in self-government through Eagle Forum, the organization she founded in 1972 and presided over until her death.
Stacy on the Right, Urban Family Talk network’s newest talk radio program, is recorded in the St. Louis, Missouri, area, home of Eagle Forum. (See here.) As a strong conservative growing in influence, Stacy Washington often found herself in the same circles with Schlafly.
“She was a force to be reckoned with,” Washington told AFA Journal, “a truly godly woman possessing the fortitude of a battle tested warrior. Phyllis was blunt, brutally honest, and kind. I found her inspirational in so many ways – her happy nature being chief among them.”
“Phyllis was one of a kind,” said Wildmon. “When God created her, He threw away the mold. You’re not going to get another individual like her. She was tenacious! She didn’t quit.”
A friend remembers
Sandy Rios (left), AFA director of government affairs and host of Sandy Rios in the Morning responded to AFA Journal.
AFA Journal: What was your relationship with Phyllis Schlafly?
Sandy Rios: I worked with Phyllis behind the scenes for many years. We became friends when I was serving as president of Concerned Women for America from 2001 to 2004.
AFAJ: How much influence did she have on you and what is the primary imprint she has left on you personally?
SR: She had tremendous influence on my life. She was such a beautiful, gracious, well spoken, unflappable, brilliant woman. I never saw her discouraged. And I never saw her ever want to quit. She just kept fighting and fighting and fighting. She had an indomitable spirit.
AFAJ: In addition to her successful take-down of the ERA, what is Schlafly’s most remarkable professional accomplishment?
SR: I would say her greatest lifetime accomplishment was her fight for the unborn. In the 1980s, it was so unpopular and so discouraging to be pro-life. It was then what it is now to be against gay marriage. If you were pro-life, you had cooties; you were dumb, ill-informed, foolish, backwards. You were scorned and ridiculed. Phyllis never gave quarter to any of that. She just stayed the course and continued to speak the truth. She made the case brilliantly whether people wanted to hear it or not.
The other contribution she gave was to the Republican platform. As the ideological leader of the conservative movement, she was intricately woven into the Republican establishment. She attended every Republican convention since 1952. You can lay at Phyllis's feet the unbelievably strong platform of the Republican Party on the issues of life, marriage, schools, and national defense. They have the most conservative platform ever, and that is because of the work of Phyllis Schlafly.